Former Gov. Rick Perry will be the first to tell you that he had no business running for president four years ago. He wasn’t in good health, wasn’t prepared, wasn’t up to the job.
It was supposed to be different this time. He’d gone to a sort of presidential candidate school, donned smart-looking glasses and toned down that trademark swagger. This was the humbler, statesman-like Rick Perry.
As news of his departure from the race confirms, none of that came even close to mattering. And here’s why: Voters have concluded that Rick Perry, God love him, is not presidential material.
Don’t take it from me. Take it from his former campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, who said as much a few years ago after Perry’s infamous “oops moment,” when the governor couldn’t remember that third federal department he wanted to shut down.
“Regrettably, it was a moment that cemented in a lot of folks’ minds what they thought,” Allbaugh told me. “They couldn’t envision a future president of the United States having an oops moment.”
After Perry racked up embarrassingly low poll numbers and committed a string of new oops moments in his now concluded do-over, Allbaugh’s conclusion is just as valid today as it was four years ago.
So what now? What does someone like Perry, whose attraction to politics borders on addiction, do with himself?
Anyone who knows the former governor will expect him to hit the trail for the eventual Republican nominee — even if it winds up being Donald Trump, who only grew stronger amid the former governor’s ill-advised attacks on him.
And it’s not out of the question that a Republican president would pick Perry for a job in his or her administration, maybe as secretary of agriculture or commerce, where a gaffe or two wouldn’t exactly bring down the government. Mike Huckabee, though considered a long shot himself, said Friday he’d put Perry in his hypothetical cabinet in a heartbeat.
“I’m very convinced his service to our country isn’t over," said Steve Cortes, a Chicago financier who backed Perry. "Whoever wins would be very well advised to take a look at something very senior for him” in his or her administration.
But this is a new, dimmer era for Rick Perry. He went with the establishment candidate in the 2012 Senate race and missed his chance to glom onto the stardom of maverick U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Now Cruz has replaced Perry at the center of the Texas political universe, and there’s no turning back.
He’s also got that pesky little criminal indictment hanging over his head. You can count on Perry to make the most of that, to keep himself in the spotlight. Just look at the way he handled it last year when a special prosecutor announced the indictment. Perry and his campaign aides were largely successful in framing the issue as a criminalization of the political process, an abuse of prosecutorial discretion.
The former governor’s masterful press conference outside the courthouse after he was booked on felony charges will probably go down as one of the boldest in-your-face moments in Texas political history. Supporters even used his smiling mug shot on campaign t-shirts.
Still, fighting the charges will be a time-consuming and costly endeavor. And the longer it drags on the more it will hurt Perry’s prospects for some new gig — either as a member of a presidential cabinet or even a high-profile corporate board. Perry needs to get the criminal case behind him, and the sooner the better.
In the meantime, any longtime Perry watcher worth his salt knows the handsome fly boy from Paint Creek, Texas—the longest serving governor in Texas history—will do everything in his power to stay relevant in state and national politics.
The problem is he doesn’t have much power left.